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Topdog/Underdog is a 2001 play by Suzan-Lori Parks.

The entire play takes place in a single set—a shabby room in a boarding house—and has only two characters, who are named "Lincoln" and "Booth."

Yes, those are their names.

Lincoln and Booth are African-American brothers, trying to survive. They have been each other's only family since first their mother, and then their father abandoned him. Lincoln, the older brother, used to run a three-card monte scam, and he was quite good at it. But after one of his partners got shot and killed, Lincoln left the criminal life. He now has a straight job as...wait for it...an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, in an amusement park attraction where he dresses up as the 16th President of the United States at Ford's Theater, and tourists pretend to shoot him.

Meanwhile, his brother Booth is jobless. Booth has ambitions to follow his older brother into three-card monte scamming, but he's not as good at is as Lincoln is. Booth has an ex-girlfriend named Grace, whom he hopes to win back.

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The original off-Broadway production featured Jeffrey Wright as Lincoln and Don Cheadle as Booth. When the play hit Broadway in 2002 Wright returned as Lincoln and Mos Def played Booth.


Tropes:

  • Absurdism: Brothers named Lincoln and Booth. And Lincoln, despite being black, has a job as an Abraham Lincoln imitator, in an attraction where people pretend to assassinate him.
  • As You Know: A lot of this, especially when the brothers are delivering exposition about their past and how their parents abandoned them.
  • Bottle Episode: Two characters, one set.
  • Blackface: Inverted. Lincoln puts on whiteface when he's impersonating his namesake Abraham Lincoln.
  • Brick Joke: Booth comes back to the room bragging about how he had great sex with Grace. Lincoln guesses that he's lying and will end his evening by masturbating to his stash of porno magazines. After Lincoln goes to sleep in the easy chair, Booth crawls into bed with a porno mag in hand.
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  • Comforting Comforter: To demonstrate how much he really does care for his older brother, Booth puts a blanket over Lincoln when Lincoln falls asleep in the chair.
  • Downer Ending: Lincoln uses his three-card monte skills to take Booth's $500 inheritance from his parents. Booth then murders Lincoln. He cradles his brother's body and shouts in anguish as the play ends.
  • Foreshadowing: Lincoln comments about sometimes letting the mark win so that he can get the mark to make a big bet, which is when Lincoln will win. In the end, this is exactly what Lincoln does with Booth.
  • The Ghost: Grace, Booth's ex-girlfriend. He claims to have had sex with her, he thinks she's coming over to his room one night, and he later says they're getting back together and will be married. She's never seen.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Sexually Active Today?: Booth brags about the great sex he just had with Grace. Lincoln guesses that he's lying, and it's strongly implied that Lincoln is right.
  • Hello, Nurse!: Grace, although she never appears. Lincoln and Booth commiserate on how good-looking she is, and Lincoln talks about how everybody he knew would stop and watch as Grace walked by.
  • If I Can't Have You...: At the end Booth reveals that after Grace rejected him, he shot her to death.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: At one point a stressed-out Lincoln was unable to get aroused for sex with his wife Connie, which was why she cheated on him—with Booth.
  • Minimalist Cast: Only two parts in the play.
  • My Greatest Failure: Lincoln had a premonition that he needed to quit hustling with the three-card monte game. But he went out and ran the scam anyway, and his partner Lonny got shot and killed. Lincoln still feels guilt.
  • Parental Abandonment: Lincoln and Booth's parents both abandoned them, separately, leaving the brothers all alone when Lincoln was 16 and Booth was 11.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Booth does this after killing Lincoln. The stage direction at the end says "Booth holds Lincoln's body, hugging him close."
  • Shell Game: Lincoln's scam, a three-card monte game which he uses to rip off rubes. He's extremely good at it. Booth's real skill is shoplifting, but he hopes to follow his brother into the three-card monte racket.
  • Significant Name: The characters are named "Booth" and "Lincoln". Sure enough, in the end Booth kills Lincoln.
  • Stood Up: Booth prepares an elaborate dinner for Grace in his room, but she never shows.
  • The Un-Reveal: Much is made of how Booth's mother left him $500 tied up in a stocking. Booth has never opened the stocking, and Lincoln taunts him with the prospect that their mother was lying and there isn't real money in the stocking. Lincoln is about to slice the stocking open when Booth kills him, and we never find out if Lincoln was right or not.
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